Digital surveillance may be inevitable

The math of COVID-19 may mean some level of opt-in tracking is vital to stop repeated outbreaks

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Preventing transmission is a top priority in the fight against SARS-CoV-2. Right now, there are two strategies for this: social distancing/widespread lock-downs and contact tracing/case isolation. While not a true tradeoff, there is an inverse relationship between having a granular understanding of, and response to, the spread and the need for blunt-force wide-spread quarantine measures.

There are many initiatives that provide movement data from publicly available information — the NYT, Unacast and Google to name a few. But these systems only show how much social distancing is slowing people down. They show nothing about how slowing people slows disease. This is where testing and contact tracing comes in.

Traditional contact tracing and case isolation is highly manual. The process of tracking down people who have been exposed to the virus takes three days per case, which is an impossible hurdle in the US given low numbers of public health workers and the high numbers of new cases per day, not to mention that contact tracing can be highly privacy invasive, especially when the government enforces quarantine.

Understandably, people are turning to digital solutions.

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